Debate on inclusion of Chetan Bhagat book in syllabus is about institutional responsibility, procedure: DU professor

The latest addition to the many voices being raised on the Chetan Bhagat's book comes from a DU professor who took to decrypt the confused debate around the book's inclusion in the syllabus.

FP Staff April 27, 2017 16:59:35 IST
Debate on inclusion of Chetan Bhagat book in syllabus is about institutional responsibility, procedure: DU professor

Chetan Bhagat's bestselling novel 'Five Point Someone' was recently included into the proposed syllabus for English literature syllabus in the University of Delhi and this has sparked a debate among the DU students, faculty members and the academia. The latest addition to the many voices being raised on the issue comes from DU professor Sachin Nirmala Narayanan who took to decrypt the confused debate around the book's inclusion in the syllabus.

The debate which has made it's way to classrooms has been criticised for it's 'elitist' take on English literature. While some students are decried teaching Bhagat's work alongside that of authors like Agatha Christie, Louisa M Alcott, and JK Rowling, others feel that this would be an exercise in identifying what makes popular literature popular.

Debate on inclusion of Chetan Bhagat book in syllabus is about institutional responsibility procedure DU professor

Chetan Bhagat

Addressing this issue, Narayanan, who is also an elected member of the Academic Council of the Delhi University, wrote a post on Facebook giving a balanced take on the ongoing events.

In the post titled, 'A Six Point Note To Everyone Thinking of Chetan Bhagat in terms of his "inclusion" in Delhi University syllabus' Narayanan first clarified the distinction between the proposed syllabus and an adopted one. He explained how the proposal (which according to him emerged from a limited exercise without adequate consultation with teachers) would become a part of the teaching-learning process only after its adoption in the Academic Council and the Executive Council.

The proposal which was made in relative secrecy, "lacked a framework," according to the professor. He says, "You can include 'Mein Kampf' as part of a paper on Autobiography or Fascism or, if you go by the current trend, Nationalism but you have to provide a justification, propose a methodology of analysis/study."

Defending the stance of academics, who are not against 'popular literature', he says, "As a teacher I am extremely concerned with 'popular' to understand how one is popular while something else is not — is popular the same as best seller?, what is pulp and what is commercial literature? — all the while engrossed in critically expanding the limits of 'literature'."

Narayanan explains that while Bhagat's book becomes part of an important exercise in differentiating between 'popular literature' and 'literature', it is not mandatory to have it on the syllabus. He writes that academics don't fail to ponder on the starkness between the works of Chetan Bhagat and Amitav Ghosh, but to have a book like 'Five Point Someone' on the syllabus means to ensure thousands of students read and study the book which can then go on to become part of the 'Guide Notes' industry.

He writes, "I bring him to my classroom without having his book prescribed in my syllabus; I subject him not to the scorn of the elite but of the educated (here, I don't mean 'university educated' but, if I may say so, socially-politically educated). His 'acceptance' speech after the 'inclusion' in the syllabus — self-congratulatory, scornful and imbecile — is familiar to me due to the classroom vivisection of 'popular', 'literature' and 'popular literature I am habituated to'."

The professor concludes the note stating that he is not against Bhagat's inclusion in DU syllabus, but with "institutional responsibility, procedure, transparency and democracy."

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